Tag Archives: free will

Libertarian free will vs. compatabalism

Here is a great question I received recently via Facebook

I’ve been thinking about libertarian freedom lately. What exactly does “nature” mean? 1. The compatibilist says we can only act according to our nature, while the libertarian says we can act against it. If our nature is to sin, then couldn’t we come to Christ without His drawing since we can act against our nature? 2. Libertarians believe in causeless actions. There is no sufficient cause for us to make decisions, only “external influences”. But, if our actions were causeless, then doesn’t that undermine the cosmological argument? What are your thoughts on this? Thank you.

Additionally

The principle of causality holds that every event has an adequate cause. If this is so, then it would seem that even the act of free choice has a cause and so on back to God (or infinity). In any case, if the act of free choice is caused by another, then it cannot be caused by one’s self.” Things don’t just happen. We need causes. Likewise, our actions need a cause and they cannot originate from ourselves because then something would cause itself. Again, libertarian freedom would seem to undermine the kalam cosmological argument.

My response:

The compatabilist seeks to redefine the word “will” to mean something that, in the end, is not a “will” anymore. The compatabilist likes to equivocate on the word because they know the word MUST be used and rather than admit their system is flawed to the core, they would rather do violence to the fabric of language itself.

Once you pin them on their butchering of the English language there are really two options. 1. Get them to use words in their proper sense or 2. cease the conversation since a productive communication is impossible if your opponent is going to be so intellectually dishonest as to twist words to the degree that language itself stands in peril.

To answer further, advocates of libertarian free will (LFW) simply do not see the heart turning itself (an Augustinian statement) as an action. The will wills what the will wills. There are influences and limits that do come into play, but at some point, if we are to call the will a will, there needs to be a free and un-compelled choice between at least two possible alternatives. Otherwise we cannot be said to be free or to have willed in any meaningful sense.

As for undermining the KCA. If we are going to claim the will is necessarily part of a causal system, then we run into issues with God and His will. Is the compatabalist willing to take on the challenge of explaining the causal chain God’s will is subject to and how such a causal chain fits in with God’s aseity?

Our souls, the seats of our will, is what is made in the image of God. If our souls are causal puppets on external strings. What does that say for God?

I would therefore be weary of any man who wishes to place God’s will under causal arrest.

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Key texts affirming resistible grace

As I’ve been reading through the excellent rebuttal to 5 point Calvinism, Whosoever Will, I ran across a section that listed (with more explanation that I plan to give here, so buy the book if you want to learn more) a several key texts that provide evidence that God’s will is indeed resistible:

Additionally, here are several passages indicating Jesus’s understanding of resistible grace:

Another primer on Molinism/Middle Knowledge 2 of 2

Here is a follow-up to the exchange I posted on earlier wherein I received and answered a question from someone interested in learning more about the Biblical doctrine of Molinism/Middle Knowledge.

“Now, I may be incorrectly understanding Craig’s explanation of how middle knowledge is supposed to have worked, but I believe he detailed a scenario in which God looked out before creation and saw an infinite host of “parallel universes” (my phrase) encompassing all possible individual choices of his creatures and “picked one.””

There aren’t an infinite number of parallel universes. Middle Knowledge is of possible universes, the vast majority of which are not actualized. For example, one possible universe would be a universe with nothing in it except for empty space. Another possible universe might be one in which I married someone other than the woman I am currently married to. However there is no possible universe where 1+1 does not equal 2.

As for the choices entailed in each logically possible world, you also have to keep in mind that God’s own actions (or possible actions) are also contained within the mind (through divine omniscience) of God. I am confident that once you dwell on that for a little while you’re mind will be as blown as mine was when I first began to plumb the depths of what it means to say that our God is “the only wise God” (Romans 16:27).

The possible worlds God possesses foreknowledge of, and what primarily constitutes what we call the middle knowledge of God is the knowledge of counterfactuals. These are facts or truthful statements of “what might-have-been”. They are not a part of God’s free knowledge

“That in some sense (and this is where my understanding may be flawed) human free will is pre-existent to the Creative Decree”

This is actually a variant on what is formally known as “the grounding objection”. The short answer to this apparently problem is that God’s foreknowledge of future free events is not based on the agents themselves but on God’s knowledge of himself (specifically his omniscience or knowledge of all things). His foreknowledge couldn’t be predicated on the agents whose choices are foreknown since the agents that are foreknown did not exist at some point in time (which would mean that God’s knowledge would be limited and finite). Rather, such future free actions of causal agents (which includes angels along with humans at the least) are whats known as “brute facts” which are logically along the lines of facts such as mathematics like the concept of 1+1=2.

So when God laments in Genesis 6:6 he is not lamenting the actualizing of a world wherein free creatures would rebel in stunning (though not surprising) ways. But God’s lament is expressed within space and time (which is another rich topic) over the actualization of sin and rebellion. In short, just like Lazarus’s death was foreknown and even foreordained, Jesus still weeps in John 11:35 not because of a lack of knowledge in the formal sense (that is, being aware of facts) but because of a lack of experience (that is, the actualized event that was previously foreknown).

Another primer on Molinism/Middle Knowledge 1 of 2

I recently received the following via a Facebook message (reposed with permission):

Wes

Pardon the unsolicited message–and I see that with your 3K+ friends, your ability to reply may be limited–but I’m a long-suffering “anti-Calvinist” who’s only now beginning to study Molinism.

I noticed through Facebook’s VERY unprivate data search mechanisms that you are a fairly outspoken Molinist of sorts and some random comments I’ve read of yours lead me to believe you might be prepared to shed some light on a couple of things for me.

Previously, I’d developed a general aversion to any system of theology simply because I saw all “sides” of this or that debate simply bypassing a reconciliation effort in favor of a “these verses mean what they say, those don’t” approach. Now that I’ve dipped my toes in Molinism (via WLC’s defense of it in the book I’ve linked to), I’m at least hopeful. Now, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around some of the hermeneutic’s particulars, but there are two verses, one a proof text for the reformed crowd and one for the openness crowd, that I’m wondering how Molinism addresses.

Reformed: Eph. 1:11

Openness: Gen. 6:6

Whenever you could get back to me, that would be super. Thanks in advance for whatever time you can dedicate to it.

Sincerely
Josh Lowery

Since I love the doctrine of Molinism/Middle Knowledge I decided to try and give Josh as much information on the subject as I could in a single Facebook message. What follows, then, is sort-of the fire-hose method of discussing an otherwise deep and rich subject in a relatively short amount of time.

Hey Josh,

Thanks for the message, unsolicited or not 😉

I am indeed a huge fan of Molinism. As Thomas P. Flint mentions in his excellent work “Divine Providence: The Molinist Account”, Molinism’s twin pillars are God’s sovereignty and mankind’s limited free agency.

As to the specific verses you mentioned. I would argue that Eph 1:11 is primarily referring to Christ and how our redemption is worked out ahead of time in him. Thus the “all things” are directly referring to the salvation brought about in Christ. Calvinists often point to this verse by way of saying that God causes all things. However the idea of causal determinism has some very serious flaws.

The most significant of which is that it ends up making God culpable for all sin, evil, and suffering in the world. You can study more on this vein of thought through Alvin Plantinga’s Free Will Theodicy, (my favorite) Bruce Little’s Creation Order Theodicy, and (ok, another favorite) Udo Middleman’s Innocence of God.

I must admit I haven’t encountered Genesis 6:6 used in the open theistic sense but having read a lot of Boyd I can certainly see how it could be portrayed that way.

Basically open theism is, in my estimation, the perfect opposite of the Calvinistic view. However the reason for this is that they both have a wrong understanding of what free will is. Both systems have a view that if God contains foreknowledge of future-free events then that somehow means that men are not free. WLC has an excellent book on this very subject entitled “Only Wise God” wherein he refutes this flawed understanding of free agency in connection with supreme sovereignty and by destroying the linkage of premises in the argument (that is, that 1. God’s foreknowledge inevitably means that 2. men cannot have free causal agency) he, in my estimation anyway, manages to utterly demolish both erroneous views while upholding what a plain reading of the text seems to indicate (that is, that God is sovereign and men’s choices are their own).

So yes, God can lament over the choices of men in Genesis 6:6 and Exodus 32:1-14, as well as change the course of events in 2 Kings 20 in response to prayer all without sacrificing God’s foreknowledge, omnipotence, or without damaging God’s predestined plan for the universe.

How can this be? I believe you’ve rightly discerned what many people have believed intrinsically, even without knowing the formal theological system cobbled together initially by a Jesuit priest. That is the doctrine of Molinism or Middle Knowledge (as many prefer to call it now).

Unfortunately there has not been very much work done on the doctrine on Molinism/Middle Knowledge until recently. Now, however, there has been quite a flurry of work done from a very diverse theological crowd including some staunch Calvinists (like Alvin Plantinga!). In fact, one of the reasons I hold to the system of Molinism is because it has been such a unifying force along such a diverse group of orthodox Christians. I am forced to conclude that, like the extra-Biblical doctrine of the trinity, Molinism is a solid Biblical framework for understanding the interplay of God’s sovereignty and Mankind (and Angelic kind)’s limited free agency.

At any rate, here is a link to the best resources I’ve found on the subject of Molinism/Middle Knowledge.

Also, here is a brief outline I wrote on the doctrine of Molinism a while back. And here is a post I wrote on the biggest objection to Molinism (the grounding objection).

I hope that at least helps point you in the right direction. Let me know if you have any additional questions/thoughts/concerns. Even with 3k friends on Facebook I can always find time to talk about this topic (and many more).

Blessings,
Wes

More thoughts on the problems with the greater good theodicy

Here are some additional thoughts from a conversation that ensued following my previous post on this subject:

God does not create states of affairs and thus such we are under no compulsion to claim such states of affairs as having to have some sort of “greater good”.

I think the greatest difference here is in how we view the will and sovereignty of God. You see, evil does exist but the person who holds to a “greater good theodicy” often does so out of a misunderstanding of God’s sovereignty wherein God MUST be the cause and initiator of all events that take place. Which, consequently, must be either directly or indirectly willed by such a sovereign God since, as this definition of sovereignty goes, God always gets his way and is always glorified in all that comes to pass).

Under this view of God’s sovereignty it is actually impossible to call anything evil since, if all is both willed by a God who is the definition of good and if all is for the glory of this God who is the definition of good, then it logically follows that nothing is really effectively evil. In this case we manage to not only destroy the language of good and evil but we end up rendering large swaths of Scripture completely incomprehensible as well.

Therefore, the reason I would side with Dr Little’s assessment that a greater good need not automatically and inextricably flow from every evil is because I believe evil actually does exist and is in no way compatible with a holy, just, and good God.

This does not negate God’s ability to use evil, but it does decouple good from evil and thus destroy the dangerous duality setup by adherents to the greater good theodicy wherein evil is rendered necessary (implicitly or explicitly) for the ultimate attainment of good.

Finally, I would reject entirely the notion that Ephesians 1:11 has as it’s focal point all events that have occurred throughout human history (including and especially all of the sinful ones). While God does account for and work into his plan the sinful actions and choices of men, to charge God as the initial or causal agent behind such sinful choices and actions is to do violence to God’s holiness.

Further, no amount of equivocating on the word “good” will allow you to escape the plain and simple fact that either 1. God caused sin/evil/death/unrighteousness and is therefore culpable and marred by it or 2. God created a world in which he allows other causal agents limited freedom in choosing either according to or contrary to his will thus rendering God blameless for the freely chosen sinful acts of his creation.

God and evil, two views

From a conversation via Google Buzz1:

I can’t help but coming to the conclusion that, outside of open theism where God has no clue what the future holds, God is always in some way ‘responsible’ for sin and evil in the world. I say that with reverence and a few qualifications, of course. But God created the world at least knowing the sin and evil that would come from it. He also sustains the world and the wicked in it. He gives them life, breath, health, cognitive ability, opportunity, freedom of conscience, He doesn’t restrain their evil, and He doesn’t always save the innocent (though having full power to do so).

So if you really want to talk about ‘responsibility’, then God is most definitely the ultimate cause of all things. Without Him this world would not exist.

If we’re going to use our fallible understanding in determining if God is ‘responsible’ or not, which IMO is what Molinism is trying to do, then by anyone’s book the definition above applies full guilt and responsibility to God.

There is a big difference between 1a) God choosing to actualize (or create) a world where in evil is possible and 1b) further choosing to sustain it’s order in spite of the free choice to sin and perform evil by free (in a limited capacity) causal agents and 2) God’s being the direct cause of all that happens in the world such that all things that happen do so as a direct result of his will.

In the first instance we can show how God is truly holy and unconnected with sin who can nonetheless use it or direct it to good ends.

In the second case we are left wondering how God could be against something he causally directs. We are left with a dualistic view of evil’s being necessary for the existence of good which is something that ought to bother us since God declares his absolute disdain of evil.

We can also see that only in the second sense can God truly be at war with evil, sin, and death. Whereas the second view of God’s direct involvement in the promulgation of sin calls into question God’s commitment to it’s destruction, the first view is able to logically account for evil as being the sole product of limited free causal agents outside and independent of God.

Or, as Ravi Zacharias put it in a recent open forum: God gave us the tools of free will and love and we chose to misuse those tools to produce slavery and death.

  1. I love Google Buzz. []

Is Libertarian Free Will a Myth?

I recently debated the relationship between libertarian freedom and God’s sovereignty with a dean of a reformed seminary in Colorado Springs. During our discussion He told me that libertarian freedom is a myth. Here’s my response:

To claim that libertarian free will is a myth is to introduce a logical paradox in that we disagree, where do our disagreements and confusion come from if not from our own free wills/minds? Either we (and everything) is causally controlled (not just determined from eternity past) or we aren’t. If we are, and if you maintain that God is the puppeteer1, then God becomes the one who essentially disagrees with himself.

You also seem to be confused (as evidenced by the host of straw men you’ve managed to manufacture) as to the motives behind the desire of people like myself to uphold the doctrine of libertarian freedom2. You seem to think, along lines common to many Calvinists I’ve noticed, that my motives are to lower God or exalt man. Nothing could be farther from the truth which is quite the opposite. If we slaughter libertarian freedom (which includes the power to act against God’s wishes/will) then you end up pinning all sin, destruction, evil, etc. on God which, as Job’s friends quickly found out, brings God no glory.

The bottom line is that while not verse in Scripture trumps another3, it is our sacred duty to uphold all of the tenets of Scripture (including libertarian freedom and God’s predestining) with equal tenacity. If we uphold one aspect of God’s character above others we bring God no glory and do not do justice to a faithful and honest search for truth. God’s love or creative choice to allow conscious beings other than himself to exist is in no conflict with his sovereignty, omnipotence, or omniscience.

  1. Calvinists whine about this comparison all the time claiming it is an unfair characterization. Unfortunately, the shoe fits and I haven’t heard a reformed person (who doesn’t hold to Molinism, which excludes them from being classically reformed) offer any reason why such a characterization is not warranted yet. I’m always open to rebuttals, though, so if you can offer a reason as to why this characterization doesn’t fit, feel free to comment below! []
  2. Unfortunately many people who hold to reformed doctrine assume that opponents to the notion of causal determinism (like me) hold their positions out of willful defiance or stubborn pride. Sadly, this shows how poorly educated even many proponents of reformed theology are. Sadder still is the fact that the existence of credentials (like a Phd.) makes little difference when it comes to willful ignorance of the honest philosophical difficulties detractors may have to their position. []
  3. For the life of me I don’t understand why reformed proponents can’t accept that our differences lie not in the text, but in our interpretation of the text which includes our philosophical presuppositions. For this reason I loathe the challenge of “Oh yeah? Show me that in scripture!” []

Wordy Wednesday: Counterfactual

Counterfactuals are statements about “what might have been” regarding an event in time had circumstances been different.1

Counterfactual statements are characterized by the conditional keywords “if-then”, as in “if Obama had not raised the national debt to record levels, unemployment would have been much higher.”

The “counter” part of a “counterfactual” statement is that such a statement may be true even through the event described never happened (or “obtained”). The value of such statements is only apparent if one assumes a non-causally deterministic view of the universe where different circumstances (or decisions by causal agents) could have caused events to turn out differently.

Counterfactuals are intergal to the Molinistic view of the relationship between the sovereignty of God and the limited causal agency of man (in other words, limited free will). Specifically, counterfactuals are what give us reason to believe in the existence of logically possible worlds and the notion that while God certainly does predestine all that happens2 there exist truly free, albeit limited, causal agents such as humans and angels.

Verses that point to the existence of counterfactual (statements that can only be valid if there were a logically possible world where the events described would have obtained if circumstances were different) are Jeremiah 38:17-181 Samuel 23:6-10, Matthew 11:23, 1 Corinthians 2:8, John 15:22-24, John 18:36, Luke 4:24-46 and Matthew 26:24

Note that each of the above statements would be rendered incoherent if they were not true in their counter (not obtained) factual (proposition of truth).

  1. For more information, see Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry. []
  2. Since, out of all logically possible worlds, or potential worlds, He chose to actualize the one we are currently in. []

Wordy Wednesday: Age of accountability

The age of accountability is a teaching in Christianity which posits an age at which children are deemed responsible for their actions. Proponents believe that before this age where sufficient cognitive awareness of self-determined actions is reached, sins and the ensuing punishment is not charged to the unconscious child’s account.

The exact age at which one acquires sufficient cognitive awareness of their actions (which, in turn makes them accountable for their actions) is not known. Jewish tradition holds to it being around the age of 12 (bar mitzvah). Other traditions such as Methodists have confirmation at the age of 13 (a commonly accepted age).

Some passages that lend weight to this teaching are:

  • Jonah 4:11 – God seems to compare innocence of the unconscious animals to the children of Nineveh.
  • Deuteronomy 1:39 – This is perhaps the clearest affirmation of the doctrine of the age of accountibility as it is a clear charge to the Israelites to teach “your children who do not yet know good from bad”. This verse helps pave the way for the Deuteronomy 6:4
  • Isaiah 7:14-16 – Speaks about he complete righteousness of the promised messiah. This verse is especially powerful since it also affirms that children do sin before they are consciously aware of it.

Additionally the following verses give us additional reason to think that:

For more information on the age of accountability, take a look here and here

Can all freely choose, or are we totally depraved?

Earlier I posted a portion of a conversation I recently had with a friend (Mike) regarding salvation’s availability. Here is the continuation of that conversation (reposted with premission) where our conversation logically turns to whether everyone has the ability to accept the offer of salvation if it were freely offered.

Mike:

I see your questions1, and wanted to ask a few others for my clarification before progressing any further.

You stated, “the question rather is whether everyone has within their power (given, obviously by God) the ability to choose Christ in the first place”, then cited 2 Peter 3:9 in order to answer yes to your question.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but you most likely would assert that God grants a special grace to everyone that would enable them to choose salvation in Christ?  My questions back would be: What does this special grace (that everyone has) help man with?  What causes one to choose Christ and not the other, especially if they were both made by God and were placed in their times and circumstances by Him?

You also mentioned, “I simply question, however, the notion that God’s foreknowledge is logically tied to a causal decree. In other words, I don’t see how God’s foreknowledge is inextricably tied to the causally deterministic notion that God also causes those he foreknew to accept the grace he has offered.”  Based on thisquestion, and highlighting what I mentioned above, do you then believe that God’s sovereign election is a reaction to one’s decision to follow Christ?

Me:

No, I don’t think that special grace is given in order for anyone to accept the gift of salvation. I do think that special grace is given once that gift has been accepted in the form of salvation. What causes one man to choose Christ while another rejects while both have been through the same circumstances is the men themselves.
This is another mischaractarization of Molinism that James White propagated in his presentation where he mistakenly asserts that in Molinism it is presumed that people will act in a given way depending wholly on the circumstances.
People are unique and while we may not know who will and who won’t accept Christ given any circumstances, Jesus’s comments in Luke 10:3 assure us that God knows.
As to your second question I’ll simply say “no” because the decision of which logically possible world to actualize was made far before any of God’s creatures existed in order to be said that God reacted to them. This is another variation on the grounding objection which assumes that there are only two options to the question of who elected whom unto salvation.
God, in knowing (through his middle-knowledge of possible worlds rooted/grounded in His omniscience) who would choose given any possible set of circumstances chose to actualize a world (the one we find ourselves in currently) which necessarily closed the door to some people in terms of salvation because they, like Tyre and Sidon, were not given the signs and wonders that would have caused (or persuaded them rather) to repent in sackcloth and ashes and believe. Conversely, Chorazin and Bethsaida were given, by God’s good pleasure and soverign descision and decree, more evidence and Jesus condemned them all the same because any evidence of God is enough to convict us for failing to take Him at his word. This is, coincidentally, the same argument Paul uses in the first chapter of Romans to convict the pagans who did not have the specific revelation of the law or Jesus but who only had the natural revelation that comes from the world God created which points to himself.
A good question in relation to causal determinism would be: If God is the causal agent who chooses who will and who won’t be saved, then how does He choose? Specifically, in light of the overriding principle of Scripture that God loves all of his creation and is willing that none should perish (something also affirmed by Jonah and the other prophets as they called people to repentance for multiple years in some cases); How can we  claim God loves the world and desires the salvation of all men at the same time we affirm a doctrine that explicitly states that He doesn’t?
It seems that we have far more philosophical and theological reason to reject the notion of a God who causally determines every single thing that happens (including sin and subsequent repentance) than we do to question a system which attempts to answer the entire body of evidence (including God’s holiness and man’s responsibility for his own actions).

No, I don’t think that special grace is given in order for anyone to accept the gift of salvation. I do think that special grace is given once that gift has been accepted in the form of salvation. What causes one man to choose Christ while another rejects while both have been through the same circumstances is the men themselves.

This is another mischaracterization of Molinism that James White propagated in his presentation where he mistakenly asserts that in Molinism it is presumed that people will act in a given way depending wholly on the circumstances.

People are unique and while we may not know who will and who won’t accept Christ given any circumstances, Jesus’s comments in Luke 10:3 assure us that God knows.

As to your second question I’ll simply say “no” because the decision of which logically possible world to actualize was made far before any of God’s creatures existed in order to be said that God reacted to them. This is another variation on the grounding objection which assumes that there are only two options to the question of who elected whom unto salvation.

God, in knowing (through his middle-knowledge of possible worlds rooted/grounded in His omniscience) who would choose given any possible set of circumstances chose to actualize a world (the one we find ourselves in currently) which necessarily closed the door to some people in terms of salvation because they, like Tyre and Sidon, were not given the signs and wonders that would have caused (or persuaded them rather) to repent in sackcloth and ashes and believe. Conversely, Chorazin and Bethsaida were given, by God’s good pleasure and sovereign decision and decree, more evidence and Jesus condemned them all the same because any evidence of God is enough to convict us for failing to take Him at his word. This is, coincidentally, the same argument Paul uses in the first chapter of Romans to convict the pagans who did not have the specific revelation of the law or Jesus but who only had the natural revelation that comes from the world God created which points to himself.

A good question in relation to causal determinism would be: If God is the causal agent who chooses who will and who won’t be saved, then how does He choose? Specifically, in light of the overriding principle of Scripture that God loves all of his creation and is willing that none should perish (something also affirmed by Jonah and the other prophets as they called people to repentance for multiple years in some cases); How can we  claim God loves the world and desires the salvation of all men at the same time we affirm a doctrine that explicitly states that He doesn’t?

It seems that we have far more philosophical and theological reason to reject the notion of a God who causally determines every single thing that happens (including sin and subsequent repentance) than we do to question a system which attempts to answer the entire body of evidence (including God’s holiness and man’s responsibility for his own actions).

Mike:

While I’d like to address your response point-by-point, I think for the sake of limited time and for focus I will hone in on your specific questions.  I think they do a good job at hitting the heart of the issue, and they are ones I wrestled with for a long time myself.

You asked, “If God is the causal agent who chooses who will and who won’t be saved, then how does He choose?

I would answer that in a couple of ways.  First, the reason why He chooses one person over another is not specifically explained in Scripture.  We don’t fully understand the mind of God (Deut 29:29), but we know that He is trustworthy and He always does what is right, and that all that comes to pass will be for the sake of bringing glory to Himself.  This is where our ideas of justice and righteousness must be in submission to God’s revealed word.

We do see, however, that God chooses who are saved in such a way that none can boast (1 Cor 1:25-31), not even in their “decision for Christ”, since this too is a gift extended to the elect (Eph 2:8,9).  It is also not because of anything special about any of us (John 1:13, Rom 9:16), especially we are by nature children of the devil and objects of His wrath (Eph 2:3).  If God were to choose someone based on foreseen faith or some virtuous decision, then He would be contradicting His character since this is showing partiality (Rom 2:11).

You also asked, “How can we claim God loves the world and desires the salvation of all men at the same time we affirm a doctrine that explicitly states that He doesn’t?

To say that “God loves the world and desires all to be saved, but He doesn’t save everyone” is in no way a contradiction.  Here’s a meager example: a judge shouldn’t want to send anyone to jail because he wants to see people obey the law, yet he is charged with upholding justice so he must punish criminals.  One thing we haven’t touched on yet in our conversation is the difference between God’s “revealed will” (that which reflects His character and desires) and God’s “decretive will” (what He decrees will come to pass, either as a direct cause or not).  God obviously does desire all men to obey Him and not to sin.  Does this mean everyone obeys and nobody sins?  Well, of course not, as evidenced by the fall.  God’s desire for all to obey is his “revealed will” for all mankind.  I would argue His desire for all to be saved (2 Pet 3:9, 1 Tim 2:4) is part of His “revealed will” as well.

As far as God loving the world, He does love the world in a general sense by extending common grace to all (e.g., breath in everyone’s lungs, the restraint of people from being as evil as they can potentially be, the rain falling on the just and the unjust, patience with the wicked).

Additionally, I think it’s important to note that what we “should do” does not necessarily imply what we “can do” in and of ourselves.  Even though He desires for us to obey perfectly, we don’t have the moral ability to do so, since we are by nature dead in trespasses and sins (Ps 51:5-6, 58:3, Col 2:13)—morally in bondage to sin as a result of the fall.  Because it is a moral inability, this is why we’re still culpable for our disobedience and rejection of Christ.  And, like you mentioned, we can’t claim ignorance of the law (Rom 1:20, 2:12-16).  Because we absolutely won’t accept Christ because our wills are in such bondage to sin, this is why scripture says in Romans 8:7 that we’re unable.  For example, think of a bad marriage where a wife may scream: “I can’t forgive my husband because I hate him so much!!!”

So, the call goes out for everyone to obey perfectly, though nobody can or will.  Similarly, the call to salvation goes out to all, though nobody can or will (Rom 3:10-18).  That is, except, unless God graciously and mercifully intervenes, regenerates the sinner’s heart, and grants them repentance and faith (Acts 11:18, 2 Tim 2:25).

These evidences from Scripture are why, I argue, that God must be the causal agent for salvation.  Mankind is utterly at His total mercy, and He doesn’t owe salvation to anyone.  All the more reason for all credit to go to His Name alone for the salvation of men.

I hope my answers—though far from exhaustive—were helpful to at least some degree.

Me:

I think one of the problems we are having is that we define “faith” in fundamentally different ways. I read Eph 2:8,9 to mean that the gift of salvation is what is not of ourselves and that we merely obtain it via faith. In other words, you seem to view faith as a work whereas I do not since faith by itself saves no one but rather the object thereof.

The reason I ask how God chooses is to expose the rather curious loophole left intentionally by Calvin and modern proponents of reformed doctrine (like James White) where, after claiming that God grants us even the faith required to fulfill the command to repent and believe we are told “God grants to them the gifts of faith and repentance, which they then exercise by believing in Christ and turning from their sins in love for God.” This begs the obvious question of: If these people were foreordained unto salvation from eternity past, and if God has to grant the even the ability to accept him, why mention their exercising that gift? Why doesn’t God just do it for them?

The point is that while we both agree that God is the author and originator of faith, I maintain that humans have the ability to exercise that faith in positive (though not wholly salvific in itself) ways or not. I also don’t see where such a claim about faith makes it any more meritorious than, say, choosing to believe in the giver of a gift somehow merits the gift unto myself.

This leads to the other reformed doctrine you bring up above (which I also maintain is logically linked to the others once you take a causally deterministic view of sovereignty) which is the doctrine of total depravity.

While the Bible does clearly teach that we are, by nature, on death-row heading for an eternity separated from God I don’t think it’s fair or proper to compare our spiritual and, baring salvation, inevitable state with that of a dead man. Several issues arise if we take the analogy laid forth in certain passages about our being spiritually dead too far.

Primarily we are faced with the fact that while dead things can do no good, they can do no evil either. I like to use the analogy that if my son or daughter were to drop dead right before bedtime I wouldn’t beat them for refusing to put on their pajamas before bedtime. That would be far from just (or rational!). Similarly I don’t see how we can claim that God issues decrees we are unable to uphold, whether it be in our power or power we are to co-opt from some other source (but that is still in our power to go ask for and receive said power per Luke 19:21).

Another issue with taking the “we are dead in our trespasses” too far out of the limited scope of spiritual deadness intended in the original use is that death releases the dead person from obligation to the law. If our death is a complete inability to choose anything other than death at all, then why do you suppose we are still “under the law” and not released by it per Romans 7:2?

I think the major problem with the doctrine of total depravity lies in how low of a view it puts forth of man and the inherent damage such a view does to the imago dei or image of God we bear. I think this doctrine also fails to account for the fact that if we were all sinners and enemies of God (and, by nature children of wrath) then how were we saved at all if, according to reformed theology, the elect are predestined unto salvation apart from anything they do or decide?

In closing, I apologize for not addressing each of the verses you mentioned individually but suffice to say that I believe that it is far easier to harmonize them with a view of man’s libertarian freedom than it is to harmonize the rest of scripture with the competing notion of complete bondage that was set forth by Luther and Calvin (though not to the degree that Beza took it).

If you’ve read this far I hope you find this conversation as fruitful as Mike and I did. Feel free to join in below!

  1. He is referring to the questions I raised towards the end of my previous correspondence which can be found here. []